Google Says Microsoft’s Offer to Join Novell Bid Was a Ploy

Google Inc. (GOOG) countered remarks from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) about efforts to purchase assets from Novell Inc. (NOVL), escalating a verbal feud over technology patents.

When Microsoft asked Google to take part in a bid for Novell’s patents, it wanted to block the Internet-search giant from gaining protection against the other bidding partners, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said today.

“Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android -- and having us pay for the privilege -- must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them,” Drummond said this afternoon on Google’s blog, updating a posting he wrote yesterday. “We didn’t fall for it.”

Drummond drew flak from Microsoft yesterday, when he said the rival company formed a coalition with Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Oracle Corp. to keep the Novell patents away from Google. The remark was part of a broad rebuke of Google’s competitors that accused them of a “hostile, organized campaign” against Android, which has emerged as the top operating system for smartphones.

Google’s rivals are joining forces to purchase patents to keep them out of the Mountain View, California-based company’s hands and taking other steps to make it more expensive for handset makers to use Android, he said yesterday. Drummond cited Microsoft and Apple working together to acquire Novell’s patent portfolio as an example of the campaign against Google.

Microsoft’s Response

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith responded yesterday by saying Google had been asked to participate in the Novell bid. Microsoft also released an e-mail from Google turning down the offer.

That prompted today’s update from Drummond.

“Microsoft’s objective has been to keep from Google and Android device-makers any patents that might be used to defend against their attacks,” Drummond said. “A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners.”

Frank Shaw, a spokesman for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, reiterated today that the company asked Google to join the Novell partnership.

“We offered Google the opportunity to bid with us to buy the Novell patents; they said no,” Shaw said in a series of messages on Twitter. “Why? Because they wanted to buy something that they could use to assert against someone else. So partnering with others and reducing patent liability across industry is not something they wanted to help do.”

Nortel Bid

Google, Apple and Microsoft have been ramping up spending on patent portfolios to gain exclusive rights to a broadening array of technology, much of it used in the fast-growing area of smartphones. A group that includes Apple and Microsoft beat out Google in June with a $4.5 billion bid for patents previously owned by Nortel Networks Corp.

Oracle sued Google last year, accusing it of patent and copyright infringement over the use of Java technology used in Android.

Google fell $23.65 to $577.52 today on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares have declined 2.8 percent this year. Microsoft, down 7.1 percent in 2011, dropped 98 cents to $25.94.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

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